National Guidelines Needed for Out-of-Service Police Dogs

On December 13, 2016, Alex Geiger’s “retired” attack-trained police dog, which he kept as a personal “pet” after leaving the police force, chewed through a fence and mauled two people, killing David Fear and seriously injuring Betty Long. Geiger faced two felony counts for failing to maintain control of a dangerous dog and one felony count of involuntary manslaughter. A jury found him not guilty on April 12, 2019.

The jury has made its decision and I am hardly surprised, because there are no national standards pertaining to out-of-service police dogs. Officers routinely keep them as pets. The problem is that these pets have been trained to do unusual things, including the apprehension of criminal suspects. After the dogs are trained, they go into service where they often are used differently than their training — sometimes encouraged to act brutally. When such dogs go home at night with their handlers, or are “retired” permanently, they act according to both their training and their experiences (their “re-training”). These are not ordinary dogs, not ordinary pets, and yet there are no standards for keeping them in our communities.

The worst part about this “not guilty” verdict is the “get out of jail free” message. The defense was largely based on the absence of standard guidelines that would dictate how to protect the public from police dogs that are out of training. The defense used that argument to its advantage to get this particular defendant found not guilty, but the long term effect of the jury’s decision will create the missing guideline. Freedom from criminal responsibility means less of a need to be vigilant. The guideline will admit more casual confinement of these dogs. Public safety will suffer.

National standards are needed for police dogs that are in service or out of service. The dogs can “retire” to a different jurisdiction or different state just like any other retirees. And they can be owned by experienced canine handlers or by anyone of any age with no training whatsoever in the proper care and use of a police dog. To be certified as a police officer, a person takes training courses referred to as “POST” classes (“Police Officer Standard and Training” classes). There are few such courses for police canine handlers. To own a former police dog, there is no such training requirement. Because the dogs can end up anywhere, national standards are required. 

Note that this also will affect civil dog bite cases. I have brought lawsuits against officers and non-officers who owned former police dogs that injured innocent people. I encountered the same defense, that there is no specific, national guideline as to the keeping of those dogs. I won all those cases but they took more time and more investment of money and energy than they would have if there were such a guideline.